Form Composition


Chapter 9 outlined key thoughts on the preliminary design phase of the design process and made reference to two critical undertakings of preliminary design: (1) form composition and (2) spatial composition. Although these two aspects are sepa­rated in this book to clarify explanation, they are usually considered and studied jointly while a design solution is being developed.

This chapter presents the purpose of form composition, fundamental principles on which form composition is based, different form compositional themes and their potential uses, the relationship of form composition to existing structures, and a process for developing form composition studies for a residential project.


Form composition can be defined as the process of converting the approximate area outlines of the functional diagram to specific forms to create visual order. The gen­eral edge or outline of each space in the functional diagram is given a definite loca­tion and shape during form composition. Figure 10—1 shows the graphic difference between a functional diagram and six different form compositions for the same diagram. The spaces in all six compositions are similar in size, proportion, and func­tion to the outlines on the functional diagram, but their edges are more precise in form and location.

Some typical examples of edges of spaces in the outdoor environment include edges between the following:

• Planting bed and lawn

• Terrace and lawn

• Entrance walk and planting bed

• Driveway and entrance walk

• Steps and adjoining pavement

• Deck and terrace

In addition to establishing the exact edges of forms of a design, form composition also creates a visual theme. A visual theme provides a sense of consistency and harmony because it is created by the repetition of particular forms throughout the design. As pointed out in Chapter 9, this consistency of forms is one of the es­sential means for providing order in a landscape design. Particular forms may be

Figure 10-1

A graphic comparison between a functional diagram and six different form compositions.

selected based on (1) the intended style of garden design (Italian Renaissance, English, Colonial, Victorian, Japanese, California, Post-Modernism, etc.), (2) a desired garden character (informal, structured, organic, passive, casual, wooded, flowing), and (3) characteristics of the site. Although there are a number of poten­tial design themes that can be created for a residential design, some of the more common themes based on geometric shapes include (1) circular, (2) curvilinear, (3) rectangular, (4) diagonal, (5) angular, and (6) arc and tangent. These are illus­trated in Figure 10-2.

Whereas functional diagrams establish an invisible framework that is only indi­rectly seen or felt, a design theme provides an order that can be directly seen. The lines of the design theme establish a consistent order of forms that harmoniously relates all the elements and spaces of the design to each other (left side of Figure 10-3). Without a consistent design theme, a design is apt to break apart into a number of visually un­related parts (right side of Figure 10-3).

Form composition establishes a two-dimensional base that serves as the founda­tion for the walls and ceiling of outdoor space added during spatial composition. Collectively, all three of these planes of spatial enclosure can establish a distinct char­acter or personality that is actually experienced.

Form composition is a critical step of the design process because it directly af­fects the aesthetics of a space. Most people are not able to determine whether or not a design works well functionally without studying or living with it for a period of time. On the other hand, people react almost immediately to the forms they see within the design. Often, a quick subjective approval or disapproval of the design is based on the visual structure created by the composition of forms.

Updated: October 10, 2015 — 9:45 pm